Saturday, February 23, 2008

what I'd really love to know

is those people that are not Christians: does the last post sound like the rantings of a crazed, closed-minded fanatic? Or do you, too, ever get tired of the path you're on? What do you do about it? Is this a problem unique to close-minded Christians, or is this universal? I'd really love to know that.

the twenty year itch

I know all of you are so excited to hear that I'm suffering from another malaise of the spirit and faith. These come up every few months, often in tandem with, well, women's complaints. This time is no exception.
I've been feeling a bit weary with my faith lately.
It started when I forgot my Book of Common Prayer at our house, and thus couldn't use it at my parents. This went on for weeks, and I happily ignored the nice little routine I'd built up of checking in with God every once in a while. Why happily? Because I'm lazy, and there is so much reading material out there that demands my eyeballs. Demands.
Funny thing--when you skip prayer, God starts seeming awful distant.
Add in the feeling still out-of-sorts at our church. Not to blame my church, but Dyami and I haven't quite found our place there with our post-childbearing lifestyle.
So then Lent rolled around, and I decided to use the cycle of the holiday to try to reconnect with God, and so I started reading the New Testament, rather than reading all that other reading material.
This has been a mixed success.
  • On the plus side, I've really enjoyed the New Testament. I haven't read it in big chunks like this since college, and it's a fascinating read. I'm just reading it like any other book (rather than studying it, as was my somewhat obsessive habit in college) and I almost see more of the text when I'm not trying to be a scholar or a monk or something. Paul's personality, Jesus' personality, these really come through reading the whole thing in long chunks.
  • On the minus side, I find myself kind of annoyed by Jesus.
This really bothers me. I mean, if you're a Christian, are you supposed to be annoyed by the guy that is kind of the point of it all? Many people are annoyed by Paul, who is kind of a harpy sometimes. I on the other hand, identify with Paul. He's so clear, even when he's snarky. Live this way! This is what everything means! Give holy kisses! Amen! I mean, he's not easy, but I think I understand his personality.
But Jesus? I read a lot of his speeches in John and was just frustrated. Like: why are you so hard on your followers? How are they supposed to know Who the heck you are? and Can you just please speak clearly? and Who are You, exactly? And what difference does that make? and Why do You sound so religious? I want You to sound fresh, not like I've heard a million sermons on these words so much so that they've ceased to have meaning.
Of course, this latter complaint makes little sense. Jesus can't help that I've been a Christian for nearly twenty years. Or that familiar words are, well, familiar. I'm priviledged that I can read and understand the central text of my faith (I was stunned and humbled in Three Cups of Tea when a villiage headman wanted school for his children because he wanted them to be able to read the Koran like he'd always wanted to). But I hate going to church or bible study or reading a passage of beauty and thinking "Been there--done that."
And then there are all the textual criticism things that pop up whenever I read the Bible--like, how literally should I take all this stuff? And what does it mean that the Bible is "God-breathed?" and how do I balance intelligent reading with faithful reading?
Sigh. All these questions make my head spin.
Then I started reading Eat, Pray, Love. Which was really quite fabulous. And an interesting portrayal of this woman's search for God and faith and herself. Especially interesting because it is similar, in some respects, to mine, while being absolutely different all at once.
I could really hear her describing the God I know and love in many passages and experiences. And then there were passages that I disagreed with. Those same passages often made me envious, though. That she could so easily decide to take up the mantle of another faith tradition (well, not easily, exactly--the process sounded a lot harder than anything I've ever attempted with faith)--and assert that we should do the same if ours isn't working for us? That, in the end, the faith traditions are all seeking the same poetic metaphors?
This niggles at me. Sometimes...well, my faith doesn't work for me. Sometimes I feel it is heavy, and difficult. But I wonder: is it my faith, or is it me? Other days, when I remember Who exactly the God I serve is...those days, I realize the faith I have chosen is, well, easy, and it's burden is light. The other days, the God I'm serving is usually one of my own creating. Ie, small and petty and graceless and demanding.
I would like a Christian wiser than me to help me learn how to incorporate the meditation techniques and traditions of other faiths into my own practice. Because I think they have a lot ot teach Christians. So often modern Christianity is so head and intellect based that it leaves my heart out cold.
And I yearn for the transformative experiences Gilbert describes in her book--they sound awesome. So much so I wanted to (at moments) go to India to study with her guru and pray to Shiva.
Except my understanding of Christianity is (as she points out in her introduction) intertwined with Jesus' claim that he is The Way. The Only Way. Which always leaves me wondering how much I am free to pick and choose from cool portions of other faiths, and how much I am supposed to look and not touch.
I kind of feel like I've been married to Christianity (and perhaps not always to Christ. Which may be the problem) for a very long time, and the description of someone else's tumultous and wonderful affair with a different faith is leaving me, well, a bit itchy (then there's the 'seduced by books factor, which always gets me. I beleive everything I read, really).
Except--I'm not a big believer in divorce. What I mean is: I don't want to discard my faith because it isn't sitting right, or it isn't actualizing me. That seems kind of self-centered to me.
Indeed, much as I respect and admire Gilbert for her path--much as I hope I can have as much courage to seek my faith as she had to seek hers--some of her book seems self-indulgent to me. I think, perhaps, at the end of the book, I want to know what's next. Sure, she has come through hell, and healed herself, found God in an amazing way. But is that all? Is that all God leads us to--being right with ourselves?
It's the same problem I often have with Evangelical Christianity--that with all the talk of personal salvation, people forget about helping the poor. That they join six bible studies, but never go visit prisoners. I'm as big of a hypocrite in this area as any one else, I'm sure.
Is faith's ultimate goal just fuzzy warm feelings? Is it just self-esteem? Is it just about finding what I want, what suits me? I don't want to belittle Gilbert's encounter with God--I think good works will flow out of really understanding God's love and acceptance and character--heck, that's why I like Jesus, when I'm not annoyed at Him--but it bothered me, a little bit, that she doesn't make that leap. Perhaps it goes without saying? Perhaps her experience in Bali, helping her friend buy a house, points that way? I don't know.
Sigh. I am all bent out of shape about this post. I don't feel like I'm expressing myself very well, or giving enough credit to what was a wonderful book. Or enough credit to the hard road of finding faith these days. Sometimes it seems to me like we're all so lost, in our modern world of choices. Everything we choose is a freedom. And yet, all that choice--what we eat, what we wear, what our career should look like, our gender identity, how we raise our children, our music, our faith or spirituality--is dizzying. And sometimes I'm skeptical that each of us, locked in our own limitations will be able to find a God that is any bigger than our limitations. And that in discarding all of our traditions--in neglecting them, or disdaining them , we've lost our center and our wisdom. But what other choice (oddly) do we have?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Is it me?

The other day I was at the park, and I met some parents with two lovely children. We chatted until I needed to go, and I left feeling as though I'd connected to people in my parent's neighborhood.

I walked home and felt a little sad that this never happens to me.

Okay, well, it's a few times--so I could count on one hand. In nearly eighteen months.
Are people just less sociable than they used to be? I've been to parks several times and tried to strike up conversations with parents of kids roughly the same age as mine. Only to have it sort of fizzle. Once, I said, "Hi, I'm Heather," only to have the people look at me, then look away without responding in kind.

It's made me a little worried about underarm odor or unsightly body hair. Am I that scary?

Granted, it could be me: I'm not the most socially adept person I know. I'm that person that on the airplane makes polite conversation while really sneaking longing glances at my paperback. I get flustered when people talk to me on public transportation. That sort of thing.
But somehow, the park seems different to me. Like, well, our children might actually want to play together at some point--and it's terribly lonely being a parent sometimes. Especially a mom during the day. Wouldn't it be good to know your neighbors? What's with people who won't even introduce themselves, or who act as though I'm stalking their children when I ask their name?
I had one other really nice conversation with someone that actually lived in my neighborhood about three months ago. Nice lady--son about my age. Her name was Amy, and she lived in my development (which is very noticeably not full of children). But I haven't seen her since. I have a feeling that I'll never see the lovely couple I met yesterday again either--after all, I'll be leaving my parent's neighborhood soon.

It's made me sad, how fragmented and isolated our communities are. How frightened people seem of eachother--even in periods of our lives where we desperately need to know people within walking (or toddling) distance.

Sad enough that I might have to do something about that halitosis. Anyone have some Tic Tacs?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

the holy grail of parenting

You know what it is already, don't you?
Yes, the twelve-hour no-wakeup, no nursing, no peep-out-of-the-wee-one night. The Mom-and-Dad-went-to-bed-early-and-got-eight-uninterrupted-hours night. The-we-used-to-take-it-for-granted night. The I-don't-even-feel-like-a-nap-the-next-day night.
We had one of those this week. Hoping for a repeat, sometime soon.
I'm practically Indiana Jones now.

Monday, February 11, 2008

honestly helpful

Rather than install child safety locks on my parents nice cabinets, we've gone the high-tech route: rubber bands wrapped around the door knobs. This works pretty well for now--Lucy's dexterity has not progressed to the untangling phase.
However, the only problem with said rubber bands is that they're a pain, and easy to take off. Thus, our cabinets are unprotected half the time.
Enter Lucy. This girl now lets us know when the rubber bands are unhooked by pointing and saying, "Uh, oh!" She doesn't touch the door or the rubber band. Then she watches while we re-secure the door, and walks away, satisfied that we're staying on top of her safety.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

reading while doing

So Lent started a few days ago. Went to the service, the most solemn of the year, and my favorite. What does that say, that I like the really sad services--Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday? Whereas Easter sometimes seems like a carnival? Perhaps it's because churches tend to see Easter as the Major Outreach Event of the year (with Christmas)--Recruit! Retain! Impress! And so the life is sometimes spit-polished out of the service.
Anyway, I got my smudge of ash, and thought, during the service, what I would be giving up for Lent.
The "fasting" is pretty voluntary. Some years I've done it, and some years I haven't (and have felt guilty, being me). But I do like giving up something, in a weird way, because despite the discomfort, participation and mindful living brings more meaning to an important holiday. Christmas is easy to make a big deal of--one can argue it's made too much of, as it is. But Easter?
ANyway, my fast this year is kind of splitting hairs. I've done it before, and I will preface it by saying that it is a lot harder than it sounds.
I'm giving up 1) reading books. 2) While doing other things.
This means I can still read, but I can't read while eating. Or nursing. Or brushing my teeth. Or (gulp) waiting at stoplights. Or a host of other activities that generally are accompanied by a book, in my daily life.

The last time I gave up reading while doing, I realized just how much reading I do while doing other things. A lot of people wax poetic about how great reading in bed is, but I tend not to do so much sitting down and just reading. I am a little too fidgety for that. (Please, if you're a book multitasker, please let me know. You know who you are: having different open books stashed at various stations around your house so you have reading material everyplace--perfecting the art of propping open books with random household objects, learning how to walk while reading with the careful toe-kick so as not to trip....Anyone? Please tell me I'm not the only one.)

What does it say about me that I multi-task my favorite activity? Perhaps it's something good, like I'm efficient or something. But when I don't read while doing, I feel sort of...nervous. Like all the empty spaces of the day, the quiet activities, become more important and sort of scary.
A lot of people have the habit of turning on TVs to accompany their days, sort of a white noise to fill in scary spaces. TV I can't stand--but books, well, books are my white noise. I'm always a little nervous if I go someplace where I have to wait or sit or be for an extended period of time, and I have nothing to read.
All the books on voluntary simplicity I've been reading (while brushing my teeth) emphasize the need to have those empty spaces, those quiet times, those areas of your life that are not filled with something. I tend to get all high-and-mighty because I'm not as bought into the TV, but I have my own ways of coping.

So my first Lenten observation is that when I am not reading while eating, I tend to like company for my meal a lot more. Breakfast and lunch are my good book times right now--Lucy is happy in her high chair for a good fifteen minutes, which is glorious. But right now, that time is just, well, quiet.
It made me a little sad: I'd often rather read than share a meal with someone. Sure, books are great, but people are kind of important, too. And I'd like my daughter to grow up sometimes having mealtime conversations with me.
Don't get me wrong--I think occasional reading while mealing is fine--but when it's the default so that you feel bereft if it's not an option...well, that seems a little odd.

Why is it so hard to stop multitasking? Over stimulating our brains? What will we hear in the empty spaces if we leave them be?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Diaper Bag

I'm a little (just a wee tiny bit) proud of my newest purchase. It is a Diaper Bag.
I'd been looking for a diaper bag for a while to replace the one I bought when I was planning on being diaper free. Since diaper free also means bulk-free, I got the thin pack.
Then we ended up using bulky cloth diapers. And I'm a 'pack three so I don't run out' sort of mom.
Basically, I ended up using my car as my diaper bag, because the stuff I needed to tote just didn't fit in the baggie I'd bought.
I scouted bags all last week, but kept wheezing when I saw the price tags of bags I actually liked. So I bought a twenty dollar bag at Target. Brought it home, and decided I hated it.
But then I found The Bag.

I use capital letters advisedly. This is a Badass Bag. A Serious Tote. A Fashion Statement.
It has a Major Brand Name (Coach). It is Made of Leather. It Retails for Serious Bucks.

I got it at the thrift store. For twenty-five dollars.

Which thrift store, you'll have to ask me in person. I'm not opposed to sharing the wealth, but advertising it is another thing (since I know I have hundreds of readers, right?)
I'm not much of a shopper (actually I usually hate it) but I have become a thrift store devotee. At least this particular one. I mean, we live in a ridiculously wealthy area. People give away all kinds of stuff. And the prices on the tags, those are ones my internal cash register is willing to pay. Ie, usually ten dollars or less.

Anyway, when I was in the store, I was thinking wouldn't it be cool if they had a bag I could use as a diaper bag? And then I saw this one.
That's just the right size for a diaper bag. Wait, what's this? It's a changing pad. ?!?!?! A Changing Pad?
When I broguht my purchase up for checkout, the sales clerk acted like I'd won a lottery (in a sense, I had: what were the odds that they'd have a Coach diaper bag there on the very day I came there looking for a diaper bag? Have you ever seen a diaper bag in the thrift store, of all places? This place is not known for children's clothing) As I was paying, two people in the store tried to grab it away from me. In a mostly good-natured way.
I never used to like hauling a diaper bag before (I'm a small purse sort of person) but I have a feeling I'm going to be hefting this one with a smile on my face.
I think I need to go stroke the soft leather. Just one more time.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

baby babel

In the spirit of too-high expectations of myself, I've been thinking for a while that I need to start speaking in Spanish with Lucy. I spent years of my life learning the language, and a year living it in Argentina. I love its cadences, it's words (how perfect is it that "esperar" means both to hope and to wait?) and just the feeling of stepping into another world with language. I would love my daughter to have an easier time learning than I did. It's still a surprise to me that I managed to stick with grammar long enough to learn pretty fluent Spanish. My language skills are rusty from disuse, but they clean up nicely with consistent practice.
But. Even when not rusty, Spanish is not my native language. Once I get going, I'm pretty comfortable, but comfortable like wearing a wool suit that's slightly too tight. Every time I forget about the itch of oddness, I run over a word I can't remember or don't know, and am caught, immobile. For someone who just occasionally likes to show off a vocabulary of 10 cent words that I can hardly pronounce, not remembering the word for "duck" is disheartening.
Today, I tried, though. For about 45 minutes. It went better than I expected. Our activity is limited, so I could sort of have a cheat-sheet of stuff that we do a lot and learn new words as she does. Words I need: stroller, nap, nurse. Words I don't need so much: protagonist, essay, critic. Can you tell what my major was?) Once I got going, I even started feeling that somewhat awkward comfort. I could do it. I know I could.
It's just, awkward. As if baby care weren't awkward enough. The main problem is the inbetween talk, the stuff you say without thinking, like, "Well, Miss. What are you up to?" and "You're such a snuggle-bum" that don't translate. That feel awkward as heck when you do translate them, and are probably not even correct. What do you say in the spaces when you limit yourself like this? How do you come up with new endearments, new catchphrases? Some of the things I say to her are already crazy, but they sound even more crazy when ineptly morphed into Spanish.
And then there's poor Lucy. She's just getting the hang of understanding what I say. This, after all, is why I want to start speaking SPanish with her, before she's so tied to language that it's more difficult. She still says so little that I can easily come up with translations for everything. But it feels cruel to start saying things she doesn't understand when she had done such a good job of catching on. ("Think you're understanding me, little one? Psych! Just try to keep up now!") Her brain will sort it all out, I know. And the blessedly baby signs help bridge the gap. But still. We'd gone so far.
I want to try, though. It already feels good to speak my adopted language again. I don't think I can keep it up all the time, but maybe before first naps, or every other day, I'll put that slightly uncomfortable suit on, and be grateful for its graceful cut, and the warmth of the too-thick fabric.